Tuesday, May 17, 2011

University of Alaska Fairbanks to launch new outdoor facility

University of Alaska Fairbanks to launch new outdoor facility
by Jeff Richardson / jrichardson@newsminer.com
May 16, 2011 | 873 views | 4 4 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks is about to start work on the first steps of a new Outdoor Education Center, launching a facility that officials believe could ultimately transform winter recreation on campus.

Vice Chancellor for Students Mike Sfraga said the outdoors center is part of an effort to gradually turn UAF into a more enjoyable place for students, particularly during winter months. Chancellor Brian Rogers challenged administrators last year to eye the campus with that goal in mind.

The centerpiece will be a new climbing wall near the campus sledding hill, capable of simulating rock climbing in the summer months and an ice wall in the winter.

“The big idea is, how do we transform this campus to reflect the student that goes here?” Sfraga said. “A little more adventurous, a little more outdoorsy.”

The new climbing structure, which would be more than 30 feet tall, would supplement a less-sophisticated climbing wall inside the nearby Student Recreation Center.

UAF’s student government allocated $50,000 toward the project, which was matched by Rogers using privately raised money from the UA Foundation.

Sfraga said it should be just enough money to build the wall. Designs for the new facility should be completed by the end of the month, with construction starting in July.

UAF Outdoor Adventures coordinator Mark Oldmixon envisions a structure that will be useful to everyone from novices to elite climbers. The new wall will be able to provide technical climbing training, such as lead climbing and belaying skills.

“Our current climbing wall is awesome and gets a ton of use, but it’s limited in its educational value,” he said.

Two other elements of the park are envisioned after the climbing wall is completed, although funding for those pieces still hasn’t materialized.

A “ropes course” is tentatively planned for an area near the roundabout on lower campus, providing an area strung with ropes for skill development and exercise. A third piece would include a terrain park for snowboarders below the Butrovich Building.

Oldmixon said each piece of the planned center will have education potential, including possible use by ROTC students or campus clubs. The areas will be fenced and well-lighted, with limited hours and staff oversight.

“It’ll be heavily supervised,” Oldmixon said. “Definitely not a free-range activity.”

Sfraga said a second phase of the outdoors education center has been discussed and could include a series of zip lines from upper campus to the climbing wall. That phase is more a dream than a well-defined goal.

“That’s the grand plan,” Sfraga said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get there.”

The concept of the outdoors center has been discussed since last fall, spurred by Rogers’ desire for a more inviting campus environment. Sfraga envisions the new additions as pieces that will allow UAF to retain more students and boost recruiting efforts.

A handful of questions remain about the projects, including how their operations will be staffed and funded.

Sfraga said UAF should be able to handle some of the added workload with existing employees, but more personnel likely will be needed to oversee and maintain the facilities. He said campus officials will evaluate those needs later this summer.

Sfraga said the outdoors center probably won’t require an added fee for UAF students, although some equipment rental may be involved. Off-campus school groups and Scouts could be potential users, and those groups would likely pay an undetermined cost to use the facilities, he said.

Sfraga said he would like to see the climbing wall completed in time for UAF student orientation in late August, although he admits that timeline will be tough to achieve. A fall opening is more likely.

“It’s still a vision, but we’re working toward the reality of this,” he said.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - University of Alaska Fairbanks to launch new outdoor facility

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